It was Aug. 24, which also happens to be my mother’s birthday, but that wasn’t on my mind when I opened my front door to get the morning paper. It was cold, like it was late November, instead of late August. A strong breeze moved the wind chimes, which startled me. I sat down on the porch swing and rocked a bit.
“What the heck?” I said out loud. “It’s too early for autumn. Summer’s not over.”
An ethereal voice pierced through me. I didn’t hear the voice as much as I felt it.
Mother Nature: I’ll decide when summer is over, Jeff.
I thought I was hallucinating, so I gently bit my tongue. Nope. I was aware as always.
Mother Nature: I know I often let summer linger through September, but this year, I’ve had enough. I’ve decided to turn the star-wheel.
Jeff: So that’s why the leaves started turning brown and falling from my apple tree in July.
Mother Nature: That tree is 85 years old and she’s tired. Be glad you made some applesauce with what she gave you this year.
Jeff: It wasn’t all that good. And those little apples only made about a quart of applesauce, not nearly enough to get us through the winter.
Mother Nature: I told you, she’s tired. It’s only a matter of time. She warned you when that limb fell and just missed your car.
Jeff: But her blossoms are pretty. And her shade keeps my car cool on sunny days.
Mother Nature: Plant another apple tree.
Jeff: I won’t be around to appreciate it.
Mother Nature: Nor is the woman who planted your tree. That’s the way apple trees work, you know. The people who plant them rarely get to lie in their shade. Or enjoy their fruit.
Jeff: That’s not really fair, is it? I should live long enough to see the results of my work.
Mother Nature: Some people are trying their best to do that. It won’t work, though. People were designed with planned obsolescence as part of the deal. You’re born, you do good work — hopefully — and you die and then someone else benefits from your creativity or your industry.
Jeff: That sounds rather bleak. Why bother with anything if you can’t enjoy it before you die?
Mother Nature: Why do you dwell on your inability to benefit yourself?
Jeff: What do you mean?
Mother Nature: Consider instead, that you are the beneficiary of many people’s efforts: Your parents, your teachers, your friends, your mentors.
Jeff: Yeah. I am aware of that.
Mother Nature: Let it sink in.
Jeff: Actually, I was thinking about just that the other day. I received word that a mentor died. He helped me at a time when I thought no one could help me.
Mother Nature: Well, then. I imagine you were grateful that he went out of his way to help you. Did he get anything out of helping you but more work?
Jeff: I don’t really know; he never said anything about it. I know he wasn’t compelled to do what he did.
Mother Nature: Sometimes there’s a reward for your efforts in merely knowing that you did your best for the benefit of someone else.
Jeff: He knew that I am a moderate success in my vocation. So I guess he believed his efforts weren’t wasted. Nonetheless, I would like to know the results of my efforts.
Mother Nature: Jeff, you are at that point in your life when people are given to self-reflection. That’s good. You could use some introspection. One of your colleagues, Forrest Church, put it rather well, I think. He said that religion is the human response to being alive and knowing you will die.
Jeff: Yeah, I’ve heard that. It’s a good starting point.
The breeze returned and rustled the wind chimes again, and I rose from the porch swing to go inside. The cold made me shiver and all I could think about was the coming winter. Still, I felt warm.
The Rev. Jeff Briere is minister of Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.